NFL sophomores Patterson, Bernard set to break out

There haven't been a whole lot of famous No. 5s in National Football League lore. Paul Hornung. Donovan McNabb. Jeff Garcia? Kerry Collins? That's about where it stops ... sorry Washington Redskins fans, I'm not including Heath Shuler.

But the number five does have some significance for me as a sports fan.

It's the number of Super Bowl titles my beloved Dallas Cowboys have won. I'm hoping to see number six at some point, but it could be awhile. My favorite NBA player of all time, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, won five titles for the Los Angeles Lakers. As a die-hard New York Yankees fan, it's the number of Joe DiMaggio. The Bombers sure could use "Joltin' Joe" this season.

Did the word "bandwagon" just pop into your head? How dare you.

Five is also the number that fits best with my nickname ("Fabs"), it's got a nice ring to it. (Thanks for that, Jamie Dukes.) So as a tribute to the number five, here's my list of the five-best breakout candidates, the five-best sleepers and the five-best deep sleepers in fantasy land this season.

Five breakouts

Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos: There might not be a bigger breakout candidate among running backs than Ball, who looks primed to be the featured runner in what is an explosive Denver offense. If you don't believe me, just look at the numbers Knowshon Moreno produced in 2013 ... and what he did prior to playing with Peyton Manning. Ball could be drafted as high as Round 1 or 2 this season.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Bernard is a versatile athlete who has the tools to be a star both as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. While he figures to be in a committee in 2014, the North Carolina product is still a good bet to see an increase in touches compared to his rookie campaign. Bernard possesses low-end RB1 upside under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals: One of the best young running backs in the NFL, Ellington is in line to see a major increase in touches in his second pro season. In fact, coach Bruce Arians wants to build his offense around Ellington's versatile skill set. With no real competition for carries in the backfield, the Clemson product could produce high-end RB2 numbers in a talented offense.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Over the final four weeks of last season, no wide receiver scored more fantasy points than Patterson. The playmaking second-year player out of Tennessee will no doubt emerge as the top option in the Vikings' pass attack, and the presence of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner does nothing but add to his value. Patterson has high WR2 upside.

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans: Wright is coming off one of the quietest 90-catch seasons in recent NFL history, and his potential for the upcoming campaign is tremendous. With new coach Ken Whisenhunt calling the shots, Wright is in a good position to take the next step to fantasy football stardom. He's a nice No. 2 fantasy wide receiver who you can probably land as a WR3 in most formats.

Five sleepers

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: If you believe all the reports, Gerhart is a virtual lock to carry the football 300 times as the Jaguars new featured runner in 2014. He only recorded 300 or more carries once in college, and at 27 he's as a fresh as a back can be entering his fifth NFL season. There are questions on the offensive line, but Gerhart is still bordering on RB2 fantasy value.

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins: I was on Miller last season like white on rice. And I was wrong. But ... this wouldn't be the first time I've jumped on a player's bandwagon one year too soon. And with reports about Knowshon Moreno's knee issues continuing to mount, Miller could wind up atop Miami's depth chart once again. He's someone to target as a No. 4 running back who could have flex appeal.

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis Rams: Josh Gordon. Alshon Jeffery. Kendall Wright. Those are just a few of the second-year wide receivers who have broken out in recent seasons. Austin, the most coveted rookie wideout in fantasy land last season, could be next in line to bust out in the stat sheets. If you can land him as your fourth or fifth receiver, Austin could turn into an absolute steal in 2014.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans: See above ... Hopkins is a second-year wideout with upside. While I don't see him surpassing Andre Johnson in value or production, at least not just yet, he's a talented athlete who could do some damage in a Texans offense that could score some points under new coach Bill O'Brien. Target the Clemson product in the late rounds as a No. 4 or 5 fantasy receiver.

Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings: The presence of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is great news for Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson and Rudolph. Tight ends thrive in his system, as we saw with Jordan Cameron last season, so Rudolph is in a good position to post the best fantasy totals is his career. He's not going to cost you more than a late-round pick in most drafts, either.

Five deep sleepers

Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons: A rookie out of Florida State, Freeman is the favorite to be Steven Jackson's top fantasy handcuff in 2014. When you consider Jackson's age and the fact that he missed significant time last season, and it's not out of the realm of possiblity for Freeman to end up seeing a prominent role in Atlanta's backfield. He's worth a late-round flier.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers: Stewart, a former 1,000-yard rusher, is being forgotten in mock drafts because of his recent proneness to injuries. And while that does make him a risk, I think Stewart is worth a roll of the dice in an offense that will need to lean on the run. Entering his age-27 campaign, the Oregon product still has plenty of gas left in his statistical tank for 2014.

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Aaron Dobson, WR, New England Patriots: Another second-year wideout, Dobson should be in line for a bigger role in the New England offense in 2014. Barring setbacks in his return from foot surgery, he figures to become one of Tom Brady's favorite targets in the pass attack. If you're looking to target a young wide receiver during the mid-to-late rounds, Dobson should be near the top of your list.

Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee Titans: Hunter didn't post eye-popping totals as a rookie, but he did finish strong with a pair of 100-plus yard performances in Tennessee's final six games. While he still needs to move past veteran Nate Washington on the depth chart, this talented Tennessee product has a high ceiling in what is his second NFL season (see a trend?). Grab Hunter in the late rounds.

Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: Ertz, who scored four touchdowns as a rookie, has the tools and upside to emerge into a starting tight end in fantasy land. An athletic player with good hands and route-running skills, he's a big target for quarterback Nick Foles and figures to see more targets in his second pro campaign. Ertz will still be on the board in the late rounds of most drafts.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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